Maples Pavilion gave a standing ovation as the senior stars of UC Davis – Morgan Bertsch and sisters Kourtney and Karley Eaton – were taken out of the game with a minute to go. The trio’s careers were over, but their memories will live on.
It was an emotional moment for all three on Saturday, and the Eaton sister shared a moment at the end of Saturday’s loss to Stanford 79-54 in the first round of their NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament appearance.
“She told me she loved me,” said Kourtney Eaton said of Karley’s reaction. “We hugged, but I hugged all my teammates. There were a lot of tears.
“I knew my career had come to an end but this season has been so amazing. Those were happy tears today.”
The Aggies (25-7) hadn’t played in the postseason since 2011, and getting to play this late into March was the team’s goal.
“This has been one of the most rewarding coaching experiences that I’ve had,” said UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross. “And it’s all because of Morgan and Kourtney and Karley and all the other student-athletes that we have in our program. They are a really special group of individuals that compete for each other.”
The Aggies were given a tall task against Stanford (29-4), who finished the season ranked No. 6 in the nation and earned a No. 2 seed jumped out to a 13-0 lead. The Cardinal scored 5 of its first 7 baskets as UC Davis missed its initial eight from the floor and shot 2 for 15, including 1 of 9 on 3s, in the first quarter to fall behind 26-9.
“(We were) trying to have fun out there,” Bertsch said. “It was a tough game to get open looks. We just came out there, we shot tough shots, had a little bit of swag out there and hit some tough ones.”
Playing hard worked for them in the Big West Tournament finals when they were down by 17 points at the half, and it’s how they said they wanted to end their season.
“Something we tried to keep talking about the entire game was ‘don’t play the score,’ ” said Gross, who is 0-8 against Stanford in eight seasons. “Keep doing what we do. There was a belief in this locker room that we could cut into this lead but Stanford just kept making the plays. I was really proud of our team for there fight and how they competed throughout the entire game.”
Bertsch, a fifth-year senior who is the school’s all-time leading scorer, led all scorers with 25 points. She was the only Aggie to score in double digitsbut topped Australian standout Alanna Smith, who scored 21 including the first nine points of the game for the Cardinal.
“She is a very talented player and we just tried to keep her in front,” Smith said of Bertsch. “She is versatile and does a lot of fakes. We threw what we had at her and I think we did a pretty job.”
Smith joined Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne as the only players the past two decades with 1,600 points, 200 blocked shots and 150 made 3-pointers.
Stanford’s Kiana Williams scored 19 with 7-for-12 shooting and three 3-pointers while Smith scored 9 of 14 in field goals with three 3s. Stanford shot 49.2 from the field compared to the Aggies’ 29.1; they also dominated from long range, making 10 of 23 (43.5 percent) 3-pointers compared to Davis’ 7 of 27 (25.9).
Sage Stobbart scored 12 points and Nina Bessolo added 11 for the Aggies, who were outrebounded 50-25.
Although the ride was over after a 16-game streak heading into the tournament, Gross and the UC Davis women’s basketball team can go back to rooting for Stanford.
In May, Gross and some of her coaching staff came to Stanford to help Tara VanDerveer and her team learn the Princeton offense.
“Jen and Joe really have helped us teach the offense,” VanDerVeer said. “They are much better at it then I am. They are the tutors and I am the student. She has really helped me be a better teacher of the offense. Without her we really couldn’t be doing it.”
VanDerveer was extremely grateful for the help and sent Gross and her husband, associate coach Joe Teramoto to a Giants game in San Francisco.
Gross said that she called VanDerveer directly after the Big West Tournament to ask for advice and that she was surprised when she learned the two teams would square off in the NCAA Tournament.
“We joked the other day that maybe we shouldn’t have told them everything,” Gross said. “I’ve been really impressed with them. Obviously this week preparing for them, we’ve really seen how far they have come. I think they’ve done a tremendous job adapting their offense to fit there personnel.”
Stanford advances to play again Monday at home against seventh-seeded BYU (26-6), who topped No. 10 Auburn 73-64 earlier in the day.